The first sheen of oil from the BP oil spill reached the wetlands of Louisiana on Saturday, May 1. Many predict it will soon coat the Louisiana coast replacing the scent of surf with the stench of crude. Sunday, May 2, President Obama curtailed all commercial and recreational fishing between New Orleans and Pensacola. Millions of fish and birds could die. Driven by the shifting winds and prevailing currents, the oil slick threatens to stretch to the coasts of Florida and enter the Atlantic. The potential devastation is unimaginable.
My first reaction was grief like I would have felt had someone spilled an oily stain on my daughter’s wedding dress. But the analogy falls far short. This catastrophe is far more serious and devastating. The repercussions could last for decades. We are reminded that we live on a fragile planet.
I grew up in Corsicana, Texas where the first oil was discovered west of the Mississippi in 1894. The city fathers hired a company out of Kansas to drill for water. Instead, they struck oil. The city was incensed. Oil was worthless and messy, far less valuable than water. The internal combustion engine was in early development and automobiles were virtually unknown. The twentieth century changed all that.
My perception of earth changed dramatically on Christmas Eve, 1968. That was the day Apollo 8 reached the moon as the first manned mission. We watched as the space capsule sent back a moon’s eye view of the earth, a brilliant blue-green ball of life set against the background of space like a priceless jewel delicately placed on black velvet. Just before the lunar expedition lost radio contact and disappeared behind the moon, astronauts, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, took turns reading from Genesis 1:1-11. “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth …”
The Scripture writers somehow sensed thousands of years ago that the earth was fragile. Without the tools we have for understanding the cosmic universe with its vast dimensions, they nonetheless knew that this place was special and that its beauty could be spoiled. David wrote, “You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment.” (Psalm 101:25-26). Isaiah wrote, “And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine.” (Isaiah 34:4).
We now know, after centuries of scientific exploration and development, that our planet is indeed unique: a tiny speck in the galaxy unlike any other, teeming with life. While physicists like Stephen Hawking remain convinced by sheer logic that other intelligent life must exist somewhere in the vast cosmic universe, there is, so far, no evidence.
Our best source of knowledge for our uniqueness remains the source to which the astronauts turned as they disappeared behind the moon. We are reflections of the living God who gives us life and entrusts to us the care of His creation. His first instruction was “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” (Ge. 1:27-28). We have done pretty well on the multiplication part. How well we will do in the “replenishing” remains to be seen.